The US state of New Jersey is considering restricting government agencies’ use of TikTok to designated devices that are not used for other government business, emails obtained by Al Jazeera show.

The move would avoid an outright ban on the Chinese-owned app for state agencies, but nonetheless be a rare example of a heavily Democratic state joining the Republican-led push to restrict the popular video-sharing platform.

Last week, Al Jazeera revealed that staunchly liberal Washington state is considering banning the use of TikTok among state agencies, which would make the state the first Democratic stronghold to ban the app over data privacy and national security concerns.

In an email to colleagues, obtained by Al Jazeera, New Jersey’s top cybersecurity official said the state is considering a full ban on TikTok on government devices, but is more likely to limit the use of the app to “separate and isolated devices”.

“We are continuing to discuss the outright ban on TikTok on state devices and personal devices authorised for state business use,” Michael Geraghty, New Jersey’s chief information security officer, said on December 7 in an email to colleagues at the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

“Rather than an outright ban, we will probably provide guidance that would require agencies to use separate and isolated devices for using TikTok. We do the same for other types of access to sites and applications that represent security risks, such as the dark web.”

But Geraghty said agencies that do use TikTok are implicitly endorsing the Chinese government’s dubious activities, including influence operations on US soil.

“The decision to ban or restrict the use of a particular app or website is ultimately up to the agency making the decision, and can depend on a variety of factors, including the potential risks and benefits of using the app or website, the policies and practices of the developers, and the overall security and privacy landscape,” Geraghty said in the emails.

“Those agencies that do use TikTok have to realise that they are implicitly endorsing the Chinese regime’s collection of their and their audience’s personal info and China’s influence operations in the US.”

TikTok
[New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness]

Al Jazeera obtained the email after filing public records requests with agencies in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia, including the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness did not respond to a request for comment.

So far, at least 19 US states have banned or restricted the use of TikTok on government devices, all of which, except Louisiana, have Republican governors.

Louisiana, a conservative state with a Democratic governor, has banned the app only on devices controlled by the state’s Republican secretary of state.

New Jersey, an East Coast state that borders New York, is one of the 14 states where Democrats currently control the governorship and both branches of the state legislature.

Earlier this month, three Republican New Jersey state lawmakers announced plans to introduce legislation to ban TikTok on government devices.

While Republicans have led the push to ban TikTok at the state level, moves to restrict the app at the national level have attracted strong support across party lines.

Last week, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Senate passed a $1.7 trillion spending bill that would ban TikTok from most federal government devices.

A separate bipartisan bill to ban TikTok outright in the US is pending in Congress, although it is widely considered unlikely to make it into law.

TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, has faced growing scrutiny in the US since former President Donald Trump ordered the social media platform to divest its US assets amid concerns users’ sensitive personal data could be accessed by the Chinese government.

TikTok has denied sharing personal data with the Chinese government and insisted it would refuse any requests to do so.

It has also sought to address data protection concerns by agreeing to move all American users’ data to servers operated by Texas-based Oracle.

In an added source of controversy for TikTok, ByteDance last week admitted that a number of its employees had improperly accessed user data to track two journalists as part of an internal investigation into leaks to the media.

A company spokesperson said the employees’ actions were “unacceptable” and those involved no longer worked at the company.



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